So this weekend I had some free time and decided to spend it on Upworthy and YouTube. A bit of browsing brought me to the trailer for the food-umentary Fed Up, analogous to the 2008 film Food, Inc. It came out earlier this year and finally came out on dvd this September, so I rented it.
The basic premise of the film is that obesity trends in the United States are linked to the power of “Big Sugar” in government. This includes companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Kelloggs, General Mills, Kraft, and Nestle. The film notes that their lobbying power prevents any pro-health, anti-obesity policies from ever being enacted. I won’t spoil the entire movie because everyone should go watch it. (I did the rent-on-YouTube thing and it was $3.99 for 48 hours and was super easy.)
However, I did take notes and would like to turn them into an opinion article on the current state of the food industry. So here are my thoughts on a few points from the film:
- Calories in vs. calories out do not matter.
This point was made in the film pretty early on and I’d just like to say this definitely isn’t true. Read this article. It’s bookmarked on my Google Chrome. It’s from EvidenceMag and makes a lot of good points that the film misses out on.
For instance, people drastically over-estimate the total number of calories out and under-estimate the total number of calories in. Another common misconception is that “good” foods can’t make you fat, while a caloric deficit of pure sugar will somehow make you fat. Energy is energy, folks. It’s physics.
If you eat 5,000 calories of broccoli, you’re still going to get tubby.
- In the film, the only examples of exercise are steady-state cardiovascular activities like running and swimming.
Everyone should know how I feel about this. The human case studies in the film all use cardio-based activities in the quest to shed the pounds. But unfortunately, pounds aren’t the whole picture! And cardio isn’t the end-all-be-all of exercise!
You whole body is energy! Your whole body is a giant pile of energy just waiting to be used. Imagine if humans weren’t the top of the food chain. Something would eat us, just like we eat chicken or beef, and would derive energy from our muscle and fat.
And the activities that we do help our bodies decide where it’s going to take energy from to perform those activities. Resistance training (a.k.a. lifting) gives the body a reason to preserve muscle and take from the energy stores of our bodies to lift and recover. On the contrary, steady-state cardio-based activity isn’t intense enough to retain muscle, to use carbohydrates as a main energy source, or to necessitate recovery in the days following.
I’ve said this before, it’s possible to eat maintenance calories, perform only cardio exercise, consequently lose muscle, gain fat, and become a larger human being. Of course, with all of the cardio, you’re probably eating more anyway.
Your body is energy. The way you look all depends on how dense you store that energy. A pro athlete at 215 lbs and 10% bodyfat stores energy in mostly muscle. But a sedentary white-collar businessman might store that same 215 lbs in a very different way. The way you store your energy is completely up to you!
- Liver turns sugar immediately into fat.
This simply can’t be true. If liver turned sugar immediately into fat upon receiving it, we’d see an intense fluctuation in our fat stores after big meals (or anytime we consumed a large dose of carbs). Fortunately, the body doesn’t work like the machine pictured in the film.
All carbohydrates are sugar by the time they reach the liver. And yes, that means even your oatmeal and sweet potatoes. But carbohydrates aren’t only turned to fat or stored in the liver. In fact, total muscle glycogen stores are estimated to be somewhere around 3 g/lb of muscle. The liver stores another 75-100g and then there’s some glucose floating around the blood. Additionally, the brain needs an 50-100g of carbs per day to avoid ketosis. For a guy my size, that would put him somewhere in the 450-550g range.
Of course, you probably won’t be fully depleting muscle and liver glycogen stores every day, but that doesn’t mean extra carbs turn into fat immediately. Remember, net calories matter more than the composition of those calories. If you don’t overeat, the liver will have no reason to store excess carbohydrates as triglycerides.
On another note, frequent and excess sugar can have a detrimental effect on insulin production, sensitivity, and overall health, so keep that in mind.
- School lunches aren’t healthier (e.g. pizza and french fries are considered vegetables)
Here is a point that I agree with! As a country, we’ve done a terrible job of ensuring that kids have access to healthy food at school. But that’s not the only problem. When presented with the choice between a “healthy” school lunch or the option to spend Mom and Dad’s money on fancy little packages of cookies and Powerade, a child will almost always pick the latter! And it’s not just little kids, it’s high school athletes that do this too!
It’s not just the availability of healthy food; many kids wouldn’t choose it anyway!
There are a few things that need to be done. First, we need to take chocolate (and other flavors) milk out of schools (at least high schools). We need to stop fooling ourselves and thinking that the same drink that bodybuilders use post-workout to spike insulin is a good nutritional choice in the middle of the day for kids. Piggy-backing on that point, we need to get Powerade, Gatorade, and all types of other sports drinks and sodas out of schools as well, but I think we know that. We also need to take away snack stands. Whitman-Hanson has a snack stand in the lunch room and many kids opt to eat bagels and ice cream sandwiches for lunch instead of food with protein, healthy fats, or micronutrients. Basically, we need to remove non-essential, carbohydrate-based foods.
This includes pizza. It’s not a vegetable. Neither are french fries. I think as a society it’s important that we begin to value our long-term health and realize that 12 years of eating pizza for lunch every day will take it’s toll on a person and their habits.
But what is the solution? I think we should explore local companies and locally-grown foods. The other thing we need to do is begin spending time educating students on nutritional and exercise choices. Of course, this would depend on agreement within the field and between us, government, and big business.
- We made a huge mistake when we exchanged dietary fat for sugar in the late 1970s.
We know this. It happened after the McGovern committee decided that dietary fat was bad and complex carbohydrates were good. And then we got obese.
It’s not a hero and villain scenario. Fats and carbohydrates both have a place in diets. Going to either extreme and eliminating dietary fat or carbohydrates from a diet is short-sided and will probably leave you with nutritional deficiencies that will manifest themselves as health or performance issues.
Fat doesn’t make you fat. Neither do carbs. Too many calories and not enough/the wrong type of exercise makes you fat.
- Insulin release makes you hungry.
False, insulin release actually seems to make people full! As some nutrition experts are discovering, dense carbohydrates seem to promote satiety, unlike things like nuts which are dense with fat. Of course, this is in addition to things like fiber and overall food volume, which also make us full.
This means that no matter what color our rice is, it will probably make us full.
- Marketing to children is immoral on the grounds that they aren’t mature enough to reject what’s being sold to them.
Of course, I agree with this point also. But there’s more to this.
It’s immoral to market to anybody who doesn’t understand what you’re selling them. This isn’t any different than a cell phone carrier convincing my grandmother that she needs an iPhone 6 and an unlimited data plan.
But the awful truth here is this: it isn’t just children that don’t understand what’s being sold to them.
Many adults/parents don’t understand the tricks of the food and fitness industry either.
Yes, they understand that something is wrong. But no, they don’t quite understand how to fix it. And how can a mother make an educated decision for her family if she doesn’t know all the facts herself!?
The entire situation is ridiculous. Bottom line: it’s time we started considering the well-being of our neighbors instead of only considering how we can step on them and get ahead.
So that’s my collection of opinions on Fed Up. I apologize if it seems scattered. I wanted to quickly pose a question: what about other, relatively healthy societies, that eat a carb-based diet in the same way we do? The answer is simple: there aren’t any other cultures that consume carbohydrates at the rate we do!
We consume carbs in our drinks. In our proteins (actually, we consume protein in our carbohydrates and call that protein). We consume carbohydrates in our fats. And we consume excess carbs on top of that (pizza is not a balanced dinner).
Many other cultures consume carbs. Many healthy cultures use potatoes and rice as staples of their diets! (Think: the Japanese village-style diet or an Irish farmer’s diet.)
But the problem comes when we consume fuel for activities that we aren’t doing. To steal a page from Nate Miyaki’s book (literally), it’s like filling up the gas tank of a car that’s been sitting in the garage. The tank is already full! We aren’t doing any intense activity to warrant the ingestion of carbs!
And then we do low-intensity cardio such as a 5k or 2 hours on the elliptical and assume we’ve created this environment within our body that’s just begging for carbohydrates. I guess these types of article shouldn’t only be concerned with whether all calories are created equal. But is all exercise created equal?
And I think you can probably guess my stance on that question. Look, when it comes down to it, it’s just all about balance. Swaying in any direction toward the absolute (only doing cardio, eating no carbs, eating no fat, eating nothing) is a disaster waiting to happen.
After all of this, hopefully you don’t think I’m pro-sugar. I also hope you don’t think I’m a clean-carb warrior. I wrote this. And don’t think I don’t like cardio, because this article is bookmarked in my Google Chrome as well. And Mom, please don’t kill me for frequently spending my lunch money on bagels. I needed those carb-dense bagels to fuel my practices every day.